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Vol 2 | Issue #8 | Winter 2015

Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa

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FEATURE 1 – WORDS BY Dave Sutton

Dreaming In Reverse

In advance of his 2012 release, Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads, Dustin Wong launched a project asking fans to submit their own dreams for him to sonically reinterpret. By then, Dustin had developed a reputation for his intricate guitar work—first with the beloved Baltimore bands Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine, and later on his psychedelic solo debut, Infinite Love, where effects pedals were deployed like paint brushes. His virtuosity had established a direct line to my subconscious, and now here was a chance to invert that dynamic, to transmit a signal back, to engage with a musical hero on a highly rare and personal level. It happens that I experience a reoccurring dream, one I’ve come to know well enough to retell into my laptop. I sent the voice recording to Dustin, and weeks later, he aired the first piece: “Dave’s Dream: Gold Dust and Skateboarding.” I was floored: Dustin had taken these nonsensical constructs and spun them into a narrative cocoon, giving an inadvertently imagined scene its soundtrack.

"Dustin had taken these nonsensical constructs and spun them into a narrative cocoon, giving an inadvertently imagined scene its soundtrack."

Read/Listen to "Japan" at Stadiums & Shrines
Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads via Thrill Jockey

This concept would inspire a reinvention for Stadiums & Shrines, the music website I run with visual artist Nathaniel Whitcomb and photographer Victoria Masters. Just months after I’d taken part in Dustin’s dream series, S&S introduced its new core initiative, “Dreams,” inviting artists to compose original scores for Nathaniel’s handmade collages, composites of vintage tourism photography depicting locales from a bygone era. As its first recruit, Dustin finished his "Dream of Japan" just after Thrill Jockey Records released Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads (which would top S&S’ favorite albums of 2012 and remains forever in its DNA). Subsequently, he’d ask us if it was "cool" to include "Japan" on 2013 LP Mediation of Ecstatic Energy: the answer was yes, very cool.

Meanwhile, a new creative partner had entered Dustin’s universe. In the summer of 2011, he’d met experimental artist and former Shibuya-kei singer Takako Minekawa. Mutual fans—Takako owned Infinite Love, Dustin had been listening to her work since the late 90s—they exchanged emails after one of his Tokyo shows. Dustin returned in the winter of 2012 and the pen pals started jamming. It was a revelation for both, given his hesitance to record with others again, and her decade-long hiatus from music entirely.

Takako Minekawa - "Plash">

Dustin and Takako’s story is told here, with excerpts from a recollection between the two, transcribed from Japanese. The interview can be heard in full on Side B of SC008. Side A features “Payapaya”, a song written for this very project, paired with a collage Nathaniel made while listening to it. We’ve come full circle now, or perhaps, are now dreaming in reverse.


It took me a little while for me to open myself up for collaboration after Ponytail broke up. But when it came to making music with Takako, the process was never uncomfortable, the music making always felt like conversations to me. Creativity through intuition is something that I really love, so I think when it comes to collaboration, if the means are through intuition, I can open my heart.


I have a son, and when he was a baby, I stopped listening to music altogether for a few years. I'm not quite sure what happened. It was as if a laptop computer crashed and its memory got erased (laughs). From that point, I listened to music in increments. That process was pretty interesting; I started to reconnect with sounds that I felt an affinity with. Then I listened to music with structure, and a little bit of experimental stuff. And when listening, I would look out the window and see green plants and trees swaying in the wind; it was as if their leaves were making the sounds. That’s where I began to rediscover the joys of music. It was really refreshing for me, and in that process I ran into Dustin’s music.

Their first sessions were improvised, void of any expectations. Using a pair of un-synced loop pedals, they made long, droning pieces that would often phase out and break down.

T: In its own way, it was pretty interesting, kind of like an abstract painting. There was a gap after that, I think we reconnected in the summer of 2012 and re-conceptualized how we can make this project work. Dustin suggested that we should try having the vocal and guitar looped on one single pedal. It felt like an invention almost. This is kind of where things started to expand in our hardware interface.
D: It was a real brain twister to come up with a way to combine our equipment so that we could create music in the most intuitive way.
T: Initially, I was knitting my voice into Dustin’s guitar loops. We wrote about four songs like this and played a few shows.
D: Then we started to add more gear to the interface, like the Korg Microsampler keyboard. I think I was being conscientious about Takako’s past work’s textures and timbres and thought this could be an instrument that would make things easier to create textures and sounds that have that same energy and humor.
T: I remember chatting about this when we were about to buy it. We began putting sounds in it together—it is so fun. The choice to record field samples; that was the first step towards composing a song. Well, maybe composing is too serious of a word, choosing the sounds are kind of like…
D: Harvesting?
T: Yeah, that could be it. Collecting one sound at a time, expanding our palette. The first few songs we wrote with the microsampler were pretty simple. As we wrote more and more the songs become more and more complex. Even at the microphone, I used to be the only one singing but now we share it, we both sing.

The duo released Toropical Circle in 2013. The title and self-directed, pastel-flickering video for “Party on a Floating Cake” sums up the record’s vibe: playful, primal, cozy, cosmic. It’s perhaps lighter and less restrained than anything the two had made individually to date. And 2014’s Savage Imagination would explore this lightness even further.

D: There is a part of me that longs for freedom. There are so many structures now, norms, rules…
T: Society?
D: Yeah, I want to break through society. I want to be part of a bigger reality.
T: You think our music touches on a bigger reality?
D: I think we're not quite touching it, but we are reaching for it.
T: I think we are trying.
D: (laughs)
T: We are searching for each other. There are things Dustin is pulling out of me too. I'm never consciously outputting things from within; another force is pulling them out. Whether it's a melody on a keyboard or my vocals, I have no idea how they come out.
D: The song we gave to Singles Club also came out of a jam like this. There was no final destination really; it's just a step within those vague parameters. When we make music, I want to incorporate the world itself. I love music from all over the world, all kinds of genres, like the idea of mixing different styles and sounds, which is kind of the philosophy behind a genre like fusion, which I love. By incorporating everything you know and regurgitating an expression I feel like we can go somewhere that is not of Earth.
T: The moments when the sounds are starting to sound like music, it does feel like being transported to a different place. A world is being created, like all kinds of doors are being opened at once. It's a strange experience every time it happens. When we memorize these parts to actually perform these songs, I wonder if it is just things that we already knew.
D: Something unimaginable.
T: Something that might have been asleep.

Collage by Nathaniel Whitcomb, co-founder of Stadiums & Shrines. Inspired from listening to 'Payapaya'.


The Set Up

Prior to recording Savage Imagination, Dustin and Takako began experimenting ways in which they could expand upon their already vibrant pallet of tones and sonic textures. Coming from such diverse musical backgrounds, the development of their own interface would be key to pushing the limits of their collaboration. Allowing them to shift calmly between guitar, keyboards, sampler, and vocoder, they’ve since continued to tap into the endless possibilities some of their gear has afforded them. Their ability to use but not depend on pedals and knobs makes them one of the most cathartic live acts. Above, we’ve attempted to give a snapshot of their live and recording set up to provide an insiders view of how it all comes together.


All Ears

Dustin and Takako’s story is one of creative rejuvenation. Together, they’ve influenced one another to think and create asymmetrically. They are ‘serious’ musicians with childlike spirits. Listening to their music is the safest and healthiest form of mind-altering you’re likely to come across. On ‘All Ears’ we asked them to compile a handful of albums that have had a similar affect on them. It’s a diverse mix from two wildly diverse people.


Singles Club is a subscription record club and digital music journal published quarterly. This single contains an exclusive A-Side recording from the artist along with an interview on the B-Side featuring the artist's description of the project and track.

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